A resident expert on roses, Harry Landers likes to immediately dispel the myth of our city's most prominent and beautiful flower.
"They have a terrible reputation of being hard to grow," said Landers, the retired curator at the Washington Park International Rose Test Garden. "They're not."
Just don't plant them fully in the shade, and give them plenty of pruning and fertilizer — and hope for a good spring balance of rain and sunshine.
"More sun the better," Landers added.
So far, the sun has been in short supply, but the Royal Rosarians' 84th annual Rose Garden Contest — an official Rose Festival event — continues throughout the Portland area. Anyone with an amateur rose garden or commercial planting and who lives within 20 miles of Pioneer Courthouse Square can enter, as long as you have at least 12 bushes of the flower.
Applications are due May 27, and the Royal Rosarian judging takes place June 5, followed the next day by Portland Parks & Recreation judging. An awards ceremony will be held on June 28 at International Rose Test Garden.
Find information online (royalrosarians.com/page/rose-garden-contest).
Show off your garden, have it judged, and perhaps come away with an award or fine compliments. It's one of the great traditions in Portland, and the Rose Garden Contest regularly attracts repeat contestants such as Landers, as well as scores of others.
"It's a great outreach event," said Marilyn Clint, the Rose Festival's chief operating officer. "It's a real kick to get your garden ready. It goes back to the roots of the festival itself. Roses dominated the landscape of Portland. A lot of people line their front yards with roses."
Gretchen Humphrey of Tigard is one of them. She is past president of the Portland Rose Society, a Rose Garden Contest judge, and American Rose Society Pacific Northwest director. Pedestrians and vehicle occupants slow down to see and smell her roses.
"I'm totally enamored with roses," she said.
Humphrey lives next to an elderly care home. She sometimes cuts roses and puts them by the sidewalk for the residents to pick up. She likes to share her roses with people, and Humphrey also enjoys visiting other gardens.
"I've been a part of judging long enough and grown roses and shown roses long enough to appreciate the work that goes in and what makes a beautiful garden," she said. "It's just been a delight to be a judge."
What does she look for during the Rose Garden Contest?
"I would say we look for roses that are healthy, like vigorous," she said.
"They should be mostly disease free, should not have a lot of insect damage, should be spaced properly for good air circulation — they shouldn't be jammed together, although I do that a little bit with mine. The ground should be free of weeds. Some mulch added to make everything look nice and uniform and even. If in bloom, we look for good conditions of roses; if there needed to be dead-headed (old blooms) that had been done."
Roses planted in the shade or with "miserable looking" soil that hasn't been watered, mulched or mended can make them look bad. A pH level of 6.5 in the soil would be optimum.
"Most people who enter the contest have knowledge and know-how to work it," Humphrey said. "It's so easy to garden in this climate."
Landers, of Clackamas, said a gardener should avoid spraying chemicals on roses.
"The modern variety of roses don't need spray, but they need to be pruned and fertilized," he said.
He uses a clay soil — similar to what the International Rose Test Garden uses.
Kathy Fastenau serves as the Royal Rosarians' royal gardener. She said Portland doesn't have any shortage of rose gardens to evaluate (if homeowners care to enter the contest) and, again, some people enter their garden every year in the competition. There are different categories to differentiate the size and quality of gardens.
"We like to look at 50 gardens, at least. We already have 20 judges lined up for that," she said.
"Some of them are just frontyard or backyard gardens. Some of them look like you're in an English garden. It varies. Every house is different, some spend a lot of time and effort into the organization of the garden with pavers and other ornamentals, and others have 12 roses up along the fence or side of the house.
"Most of them look pretty healthy. What I'm worried about this year is we haven't had much sun and a lot of water," she added, as of early May.
The Royal Rosarians' slogan is "For You a Rose in Portland Grows."
So, they encourage anybody and everybody to grow a rose bush.
"Just seeing a blooming rose, and how beautiful and fragrant it is …," Fastenau said, "it's a time to show off. Everybody wants to show off their rose garden, right?"
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